The stars were aligned the right way and we got the band back together. This past Saturday, the 2008 version of my band Blackout Shoppers played five songs at Hank’s Saloon. It was somewhat of a miracle that we managed to play a halfway-decent half set, given that we hadn’t played together in years and didn’t have time to rehearse.
It was good to be among friends again playing music. And it was fitting that we held this fleeting reunion at Hank’s Saloon.
Hank’s Saloon is a quintessential New York institution and it’s a miracle that it’s still standing. That being said, it will be closing down sometime after September, the latest music venue to close up shop.
Hank’s is both a dive bar, a music venue for every type of music imaginable, and a holdover from a past New York era that has managed to live on while its surrounding succumbed to the Brooklyn real estate juggernaut.
Characterized by the flames painted on the outside as well as the band stickers that some reckon are holding the building together, Hank’s is a small place with a concrete floor and a stage that is barely a foot off the ground. Tucked into the back, playing the Hank’s stage is a bit like playing in a cement box. It is hard to see the stage from most of the bar, and the sound can be wonky unless you are close to the stage, but some of the best shows I’ve ever seen or played have been at Hank’s. It is home to many genres of music and like any perfect dive bar, just about anyone can feel at home there.
But late last year the inevitable news came out: Hank’s will be closing after this September. It stands to reason: in today’s Brooklyn anything remotely soulful or authentic is strangled to death by the high cost of doing business. Someone can make more money putting up an absurdly expensive apartment building there, so why don’t they? Good music, which is priceless, can’t often pay the rent.
There was a time not long ago when I would have railed to the uncaring sky about the injustice of it all. I would have felt rage instead of pity towards the naïve hipsters spending their parents’ money on overpriced apartments in the slums their grandparents worked hard to avoid. Instead I am grateful for the good times I have had at Hank’s and other places. I am thankful I was able to play at Hank’s one last time, to enjoy the music and the moment and take a lot of photos.
Hank’s can go out proudly, having outlived most of its competitors in a part of the city that is gentrifying at a dizzying pace. It has a special place in the hearts of New York music fans.
On August 20th 2003 I went to a show at the Knitting Factory, which was then still located in Manhattan, to see a punk rock show. What drew me to the show was that a former Lunachick was playing with her current bands—Squid’s Team Squid—but I was interested to see what other bands were playing.
As Two Man Advantage took the stage, I was prepared to be disappointed. People who wear sports jerseys outside of sporting events tend not to have a lot to offer the world, and now the whole stage was custom-made hockey jerseys. I figured out they were hockey jerseys because one of the guitar players was wearing an old-style goalie’s face mask.
The music kicked in and it was really good, aggressive punk rock that the world needs more of. And by the time lead singer, with ‘Drunk Bastard’ on the back of his jersey—all are numbered ‘69’—hit the stage, I realized this was a band with a sense of humor. Hardcore bands with a good sense of humor are rare, so I settled in to enjoy the show. But I found that even though I had never seen this band before, I was drawn to get close to the stage and join in whatever way possible. I took a few lumps in the mosh pit at that performance if I remember correctly, and it would not be the last time. But I left the Knitting Factory a confirmed Two Man Advantage fan.
Their songs are almost all hockey themed and include “Zamboni Driving Maniac,” “I Got the Puck,” “Hockey Fight,” and “I Had a Dream About Hockey.” The band is so good that listening to Two Man helped get me into watching hockey; going to a Rangers-Red Wings game a few years ago sealed the deal. Hailing from Long Island, most of the band are die-hard Islanders fans, though one of their guitar players, SK8 (“Skate”) is a Rangers fan, and drummer “Coach” supports the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the intervening years I’ve had the good fortune to not only share the stage with Two Man Advantage but to put out a split 7-inch record with them through my band Blackout Shoppers. We did a short weekend tour with them to promote the record a few years ago and it was a blast. I’ve had many good political and philosophical discussions with The Captain, who has forgotten more about math and music than most people will ever know. Two Man’s drummer, Coach, and lead singer, Spag, DJed my wedding. We visited Spag’s home to plan out the music and it had the most records I’ve ever seen in one place outside of a record store. Spag had the good sense to talk me out of blasting Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” at the reception.
Two Man Advantage began as a one-time performance as a joke at a Halloween party. The band was comprised of people who had played shows together in other bands writing a few songs about hockey.
This past weekend I drove out to Long Island to see one of two shows the band played to celebrate the two-decade mark. I got there just as the very excellent Refuse Resist, who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary as a band in their native Boston, was about to play.
True to keeping their sense of humor, the show began with a recording of the national anthem, to see who among the band members and audience would “take a knee.” A few band members and audience members did so, as Coach gave a preamble joking lamenting how politics had reared its ugly head at their show. Everyone enjoyed the levity of the moment, and no one got offended and left.
It was great to see the Two Man members again and I was at the front of the stage when the show started. I’m not as game for a mosh-pit bruising as I was in 2003, so I enjoyed most of the show from a safer distance, returning to the danger zone only once more later. It reminded me how much I enjoy music and miss making it.
Two Man Advantage played a lot of favorites and a few deep cuts, and did it all with ferocity and sincerity that the world needs more than ever.
Thank you, Two Man Advantage, for 20 awesome years.
The longest part-time job I held down during high school was at Sea Breeze, a seafood restaurant in Guilford, Connecticut, one town over from where I lived. A friend connected me with a job there and I started as a dishwasher and eventually became a line cook.
I learned how to make fantastic onion rings, tuna melts, fried shrimp, and stuffed cod. I was schooled in the art of killing, cleaning, and stuffing lobster. I was also introduced to the hellish stress of being buried in work and under pressure. I was a young and angry teenage punk rocker working with a few fellow teenagers but was mostly among adults who really needed their jobs and didn’t have time for my nonsense.
The owner was Bobby DeLucca and he and I didn’t talk much, seeing as he was the owner and I was mostly a dishwasher. He was there a lot and usually wound up working several jobs in some capacity, often in the kitchen. He would jump on the sauté station and give out the orders to the line cooks, only to move to the other side of the service window and help deliver these orders to tables.
The restaurant business is brutal and I got to see that first-hand in the two years I worked at Sea Breeze. Sometimes people walked off the job in the middle of a busy weekend night and everyone had to scramble to keep up. One night after the restaurant closed someone broke in and drilled open the safe in Bobby’s office. Dishes shatter, supplies run low, the trash collection gets delayed, the mixer breaks. It’s a stressful business to work in even when it’s not all on your shoulders, when the hard-earned bucks don’t stop with you.
Bobby’s son Rob worked in the kitchen and his daughter Darlene worked as a hostess and bartender. One time the two of them got into an argument and Darlene confronted her father about having to work with her brother. “When you were little your mother and I came to you and said ‘How would you like a little brother?’ and you said ‘Yes, Daddy, yes!’ and here we are.” The entire kitchen staff cracked up over that and whatever situation that had arisen was quickly diffused. There isn’t time to argue when there are orders to be served and people waiting for tables.
One Sunday night, the few coworkers that would normally give me a ride home were gone, things at the time weren’t great with my family, and this left me stranded at work after my shift. Bobby said he could give me a ride home, but he had to close up the restaurant first and the bar stayed open later than the kitchen. I waited in the bar, hearing snippets of conversations here or there. I hit on some of the waitresses who were much older and out of my league, which gave Bobby a laugh. “This kid’s got brass balls,” he said.
At the time I worked at Sea Breeze I was squeezing rebellious commentary into everything. There’s only so much of a rebel you can be when you are a high school student and still live at home with your family on the Connecticut shoreline, but I was angry at everything and everyone all the time and wanted it known. This didn’t faze my boss.
“You remind me of myself when I was your age,” he told me as we drove over the dark back roads towards North Madison. “I was crazy. I remember running for student council and banging my shoe on the desk like Khrushchev.”
“Oh yeah, I was something else.”
I was surprised to find this kinship with my boss, who I didn’t think had much in common with me. It was good to speak to an adult who had gone through his own turbulent teen years and could look back on them with a sense of humor, even with nostalgia. I had a new appreciation for Bobby, moved by his seeing a bit of himself in all my craziness.
Inspired by our conversation, I ran for class president in the next school year on an anti-establishment platform that had the school administration tear down my posters and call me out of Latin class in a failed attempt to scare me out of running. I might have actually won (it was the only year they decided to cancel any debates or speeches for the student elections and I never got to see the vote count despite my request). In the hallway the day after the vote, a girl who was part of the popular crowd whispered to me, “I voted for you, don’t tell anybody.” Years later, people told me how it was one of the coolest things anyone had ever done in high school.
Robert “Bobby” Gary DeLucca passed away July 30 after a brief illness, leaving behind a grieving family that includes two grandchildren. Remembrances from people who had worked for him poured in, some from decades ago. Family and friends gathered in Guilford to remember him.
I thanked Bobby for the ride home that night, but never got the chance to thank him for inspiring me to run for office, or for permission to go ahead and be a crazy young person, or for letting me know that the rebellious streak runs through all of us, even our bosses.
The greatest rock & roll band that’s ever existed, The Dwarves, were scheduled to play at Bowery Electric, and it had been too long since I’ve seen them. I bought a ticket online and made plans to travel to Manhattan on a weekend, something I rarely do anymore. But this show would be worth it, I was certain.
I made my way to Bowery Electric, which is on the Bowery a short block uptown from where CBGB used to be.
The Bowery has not been itself for a long time now. It was known the world over as a place for bums. It was the Skid Row before Skid Row existed, and served as the template for the down and out sections of town in art, literature, and life.
I would travel to Manhattan when I could as a suburban teenager in the 1980s and 1990s, and going to the East Village was a harrowing experience. The Bowery was full of homeless people selling trinkets and other junk on blankets. Some of the bums were mental patients on medication that just stared into space. Drunks slept in doorways, crack heads begged for money or cigarettes or robbed you. If there was a Bum Olympics in 1989, it would have been held on the Bowery.
Today there are few homeless charities and even fewer flop houses on the Bowery. Fancy hotels and restaurants dot the Bowery now, and apartments that used to rent for a few hundred dollars a month in my lifetime now rent for upwards of $5,000 a month, if they’re available for rent at all.
That the Bowery Electric still exists is short of a miracle. So many music venues fled Manhattan that had Joey Ramone lived he would barely recognize the street that bears his name. Standing outside the venue, I was mistaken for a bouncer as a young woman began handing me her I.D. I waved her inside, telling her I didn’t work there. Maybe I should have asked her for a $5 cover and then treated myself to something at 7 Eleven up the street.
The venue’s Web site said that the show would start at 7 p.m. and seemed to indicate another show was scheduled to start at 10. I hustled and made good time and got to the show to learn that the first band of the night had canceled and that The Dwarves would not be starting to play until 10 p.m., when the Web site had said the show would end. Even in these modern times, the best shows still run on Punk Rock Time.
I set out for a brief walkabout of the East Village and found myself on St. Mark’s Place, where everything is now geared towards tourists or college students. The Papaya King proved a good find; I was one of two customers there at the time and I enjoyed some hot dogs while watching people walk by, most of them much younger and none of them looking like fellow travelers in the neighborhood for a punk rock show.
Across from Papaya King, the building that once housed the iconic fashion store Trash and Vaudeville is shuttered and under renovation. I would go there all the time years ago, not to buy things, but to put up flyers for upcoming shows that Blackout Shoppers would be playing. The store is still in business nearby on East 7th Street, but seeing it pass from its longtime location on St. Mark’s was another illustration of how change has rapidly come to this part of the city.
On 2nd Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets there is still a vacant lot where three buildings were destroyed in a gas explosion in 2015. There were a few curiosity seekers milling about the sidewalk where a chain-link fence keeps people from the lot. The lot is covered in gravel and there were two bouquets of flowers there for the two people killed in the explosion.
I made my way back to Bowery Electric and started running into people I knew. I am not as active on the music scene as I used to be, but I have a lot of friends I made over those years and meeting up with them at shows is always fun. I made my way downstairs where the main stage is set and found a good spot on a low balcony to see the show.
The Dwarves did not disappoint. They played their entire The Dwarves Are Young And Good Looking Album straight through and then played a lot their most beloved songs. Original guitar player HeWhoCannotBeNamed joined them and with Nick Oliveri on bass they can branch out into some of their more aggressive stalwarts. The Fresh Prince of Darkness shreds on lead guitar. Lead singer Blag Dahlia is a sinister master of ceremonies who wears a shit-eating grin. A Dwarves show is a celebration of the nihilistic aggression that made punk rock so phenomenal, but with a humorous twist that prevents anyone from trying to take things too seriously.
At the end of the show I met some more good music friends and made my way upstairs to use the bathroom before I headed home.
When I got upstairs, there was a different scene. The well-dressed hipsters and well-to-do young people with good jobs where in command of this part of the venue. As I stood in line to use one of the single-use restrooms, I decided to stretch my back since I had been on my feet so long. I bent over a bit to put my hands on my knees to straighten by back and the sharply-dressed guy who was next in line took a few steps back, thinking I was getting ready to throw up all over the floor. I thought about making some gesture to assuage his fears, and let him know that I am only a sober middle-aged punk rock fan with a bad back, but why bother? If you’re in the habit of wearing pressed slacks and dress shoes to a bar on the Bowery, maybe you should live in fear of being vomited on.
On my way out, I stopped to shake Blag Dahlia’s hand and congratulate him on a great show. He thanked me and I left into the glittery night of the East Village for the long trip home.
This past weekend I went to a wedding that was held on a vegan farm animal sanctuary. The farm sanctuary is near Woodstock in upstate New York (“upstate” is technically anywhere in New York that is north of the five boroughs though people who live in Rochester or Niagara Falls might beg to differ—Albany might be a more suitable line of demarcation). This was not in the suburbs, but in a rural area where the crowded noise of the city does not reach until we bring it with us.
The bride in the wedding is an earnest young woman whose love of animals knows almost no bounds. I was bound to respect her wishes, though I’m not sure my belt and shoes were not leather. I thought it best to tread close to violating the sanctity of veganism rather than risk dressing like a hippie at a friend’s wedding. The groom was Joey Steel, one of the hardest working and intense men the punk rock scene has ever known. His progressive politics make Jello Biafra look like Ted Nugent.
A friend and former coworker who is a vegan was delighted that I was going. She sponsors a pig there named Julia and asked me to send her a photo.
We arrived a bit on the late side, as driving there meant contending with traffic and a hotel that said we could check in early and then said we couldn’t. As we pulled into the farm sanctuary, a woman came out of a small guard house to greet us. We told her we were going to the wedding and she told us where to go, asking us to drive slowly and be careful of children or animals that might wander onto the dirt road.
I did not mention to the woman that I would every gladly kill and eat every animal on the sanctuary or that she was missing out because chickens, cows, and pigs are all very delicious. That would be rude to say, but I could not help thinking it as we rolled past tasty-looking animals. My wife learned from speaking to some of the staff that the eggs that the chickens produce on the farm sanctuary are cooked and fed back to the chickens, in a strange horror show of avian cannibalism.
After the ceremony, the bride and groom invited guests to take a tour of the facility, which resembled a farm in many ways. The animals there have come from various farms and people can often go into their enclosures and pet them. I got to feed a very large cow named Elvis.
When the tour reached the pigs, I asked the tour guide which pig was Julia the pig. The tour guide said she did not know of a pig named Julia there, that perhaps I was confusing their animal sanctuary with another one. Apparently this place has not cornered the market on hippie vegan farm sanctuaries where people pay for farm animals they can’t eat. Who knew? I was sure that this was the place though and sent my friend a photo of several of the pigs to ask if one of them was her Julia.
I hope no bad fate has befallen this pig. I hope that she really exists and is not just a scam to wring money out of kind-hearted vegans.
It is a sign of comfort and stability that people in our society can not only be vegans but invest in livestock that will never be eaten. In many parts of the world, people cannot afford to not eat their animals or the milk or eggs they produce. An abundance of food and reliability of agricultural yield are great benefits of the First World no one wants to give up. Even at my lowest points of unemployment and poverty, I never thought starvation was a remote possibility.
One of the reasons I got into hunting was because I believe that if you eat meat, you should be willing to hunt. You should know first-hand about the spilling of blood that puts food on your plate. Death is part of life; to sanitize our experience with death is to provide a false version of life. Vegans and hunters are similar in this way: they both acknowledge that the central defining act of eating meat happens not in the presentation on the plate, but on the floor of the forest or the slaughter house.
The Catskills are inspiring and my wife and I are grateful to have been invited to such a great wedding in such a beautiful place. And as much as I enjoy hunting, I can be a vegan for a few hours for my friends.
I’m standing outside of Hank’s Saloon on the corner of Third Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn on the Saturday before Halloween. I’m there to play some punk rock songs as part of Green Hell, the Misfits cover band that has somehow managed to have a few reunion shows this year.
Hank’s Saloon is a ramshackle dive bar that still hosts live music. It’s a miracle that the place is still standing as Brooklyn’s booming real estate market has created an almost non-stop construction zone all around it. There was once a Walgreen’s across the street. Now there is a luxury high rise, The Hendrik, being constructed. A two-bedroom apartment in the Hendrik will cost you nearly $2 million dollars if you want to slum it; the four-bedroom penthouse will cost about $4 million. The developers had the sense to list it as being on Pacific Street since Atlantic Avenue, the larger thoroughfare, doesn’t have the sterling ring to it.
Farther up Atlantic Avenue is The Barclays Center where the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders play. The Barclays Center was the death knell for Brooklyn culture for a lot of New Yorkers. Local artists and musicians were among those who fought tooth and nail against this stadium, which is a big ugly mark against the city and exhibit A in the corrupt influence of large developers on government. So far I’ve avoided setting foot in that place (I’m a Knicks and Rangers fan anyway).
Because it’s Halloween weekend, lots of people are coming by in costume. One such patron at Hank’s is a man dressed in brown with what look like several blond wig pelts hanging from his body and a face mask and head piece that look as if a giant tongue has replaces his head. As he enters Hanks, someone from a car stopped at the red light on Atlantic and Third shouts to him, “What is your costume?” He doesn’t answer because he’s not sure himself.
“You’re getting a lot of attention from motorists,” I tell him.
“Yes I know,” he says. “I took the subway here and people didn’t know what to do.”
“Are you a giant tongue?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I am. I don’t believe in being any existing character.”
He said he initially had some kind of Donald Trump costume in mind, thus his plentiful supply of artificial blond hair and emphasis on a large mouth. But he decided to do something completely unique instead. I ask him to pose for a photo outside of Hank’s and he obliges, crouching down and doing a strange dance like you’d expect a giant tongue-man to do.
There are still plenty of skels around to testify to the traditional low desirability of this area. Atlantic Avenue still houses several Islamic bookstores and places of worship. A few of these Mohammedans were in a heated discussion as I walked to get something to eat with Filthy Phill, lead singer of World War IX, one of New York’s finest punk bands. He used to live not far from the area in Park Slope, but hardly recognizes anything now. We were looking for a Halal cart for some dinner before the show, but didn’t find one and settled for Shake Shack; it was delicious.
We got back to Hank’s and the show started. People performed in costume and everything was fun. It was not a large gathering but a lot of longtime friends where there and the music was good. It was great to see many of my music friends.
Green Hell forgot to bring set lists but it was no matter. We figured out what to play and the crowd loved singing along to the Misfits covers. By the end of the night, people were happy to have seen us and we were glad to have played our two shows in the city for some appreciative friends and fans.
We loaded up my pickup truck with gear and brought it to Skum City’s rehearsal space on the Lower East Side. I dropped a truck full of friends on the Upper East Side before driving home. One of them asks me if I miss hauling people and equipment around the city at all hours of the morning. I do and I don’t. I can’t do this every weekend of course, but if I go a year without doing some music in some way I just don’t feel right. I told friends of mine on tour one time: The only thing worse than being in a thankless punk band is not being in a thankless punk band.
I got home at nearly four in the morning exhausted but extremely grateful that there are still places people can celebrate art and music, even among the construction of a future city we won’t recognize. We can go back to our regular lives a little better. As long as there is even some small critical mass of us, all is not lost.
The Queens Museum is a site of pilgrimage for punk rock fans from all over the area thanks to its Ramones exhibit, which is open until July 31.
I made it there not long ago one weekend after seeing friends posting photos of their visits there over social media for the last several months. It is a fine exhibit, one long overdue in the borough that gave the pioneering punk rock band to the world. I made a point to wear my Norman Bates & The Showerheads t-shirt when I visited, because one great Queens punk band deserves another.
The exhibit is colorful and brief. It’s only two modest-sized rooms and a screening room. I went there with my family, which means that a good deal of our time was spent stopping our two and half year old twin girls from banging Tommy Ramone’s snare drum. We didn’t have time to really take all of it in, maybe we should have gotten a sitter.
But as rushed as our walk through the exhibit was, it was important to be there. Queens is often overlooked in the pantheon of New York City artistic greatness. But Queens has given the world not only the Ramones but Johnny Thunders, Run-DMC, Simon & Garfunkel and more. Queens doesn’t get the respect it deserves – all the outer boroughs carry with it that basic desire to poke their finger in the eye of the city being defined as Manhattan.
One thing that the contemporary adoration of the Ramones tends to obscure is that they were grossly underappreciated when they were a functioning group, at least here in the U.S. I remember going to see them in 1989 in Connecticut and they were playing at Toad’s Place in New Haven, an admirable music club but a small venue (it was a 21+ show and I had no fake I.D.). When I finally saw them in late 1995, they were playing a larger venue, but as part of a shitty alternative radio show, headlining but sharing the bill with the unworthy likes of Better than Ezra and Silverchair (the oft-hated Silverchair were actually very good to be honest).
The Ramones who moved to the East Village in the 1970s could not afford to live there today. While the Joey Ramone Place street sign is the most stolen in the city, the area looks nothing like it did when the Ramones first played CBGB in 1974. The refrain is a familiar one: New York is no longer affordable to the artists who made New York’s art scene famous. The artists I know don’t talk about New York, they speak of Philadelphia, Buffalo, or Berlin. New York’s East Village is a victim of its own success in a lot of ways. I’m not ready to give up on New York just yet, but it’s easy for me to say that from Flushing.
To be a punk rock fan in New York City means to constantly wrestle with nostalgia. There is a rich history to celebrate, but nostalgia can be a trap as much as a motivator.
New York continues to produce great punk bands. You may have to travel farther away from Manhattan and the trendy parts of Brooklyn to see them, but great local bands, the Ramones of tomorrow, are playing somewhere in Queens today.